Tuesday, January 31, 2012

North Park University Names Director for Center for Youth Ministry Studies

Daniel White HodgeNorth Park University named Dr. Daniel White Hodge director of the University's Center for Youth Ministry Studies (CYMS). Hodge, 38, will assume his new role at the University on Feb. 15.

"We are excited to welcome Dr. Hodge to the North Park University community," Dr. Joseph Jones, University provost. "His work and commitment to serve in the field of youth ministry studies will be a great asset in our vision to engage students, youth workers and pastors in the growth and development of youth throughout this country."

Hodge brings 18 years of urban youth experience with organizations such as Young Life and World Vision, as well as related scholarship, speaking, teaching and writing experience to his new role. "I believe this is a natural fit with the work I've been doing," he said in an interview. "I've always heard great things about North Park University. I'm excited because it really fulfills what I've been doing most of my life. I'm looking forward to making this a national center for resources and for people wanting to do youth ministry."

A factor in his decision to join the University was its emphasis on diversity and justice, and the fact that those themes resonate throughout the North Park University community, he said. The University's Christian environment and its urban emphasis because of its location in Chicago were other influential factors, Hodge said.



Jeremiah Wright to Speak

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is among the prominent African-American leaders in the United Church of Christ coming to Cleveland to speak during the denomination’s Black History Month celebration.

Wright became a controversial figure to many Americans during the 2008 presidential campaign. Because President Obama and his family had attended Wright’s church when they lived in Chicago, excerpts from some of Wright’s sermons became points of contention.

Obama eventually denounced some of Wright’s statements, but many scholars and clerics have defended Wright, saying the statements publicized during the political campaign were taken out of context.
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"Christophobia" Rhetoric: Politics as a Religion


Suzanne Fields writes in Turning Swords in Bombs, "Christians who sought domination, on the other hand, never invoked the teachings of Christ to justify violence," is misleading, and not entirely correct. Examples would be the series of Crusade expeditions, other than the first one. Violence was seen in the New World, in the name of the Church by Conquistadors and Jesuit monks and priests. Christians in the medieval period burned books -- and people. The Inquisition tortured confessions from people, and if that was not enough, they either hanged them or burned at the stake. Of course, like violence begets violence, there is no justification for what atrocities are committed in the name of religion and war being declared against any nation, entity, or individual that criticizes or does not support Islamic ideology. 
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America is Not a Christian Nation

by Steven Forest
Op ED News

"Tell me a tale", I said to my master. "Tell me of a time when man was deceived by promises of a better tomorrow that never came: A fiction of men who lie to make me feel secure within my life's insecurities. Tell me a story of false hope, Master: The one where I will serve you while suffering the death of my conscience and the blackening of my soul before leaving this plain. Lie to me so I may never realize the true depths of your deception." ~ S. Forrest

Over and over again, we are told by the right wing how America is a Christian Nation: A land where family values and Christian morals need once again to exist as our Forefathers planned. From Sarah Palin to Rick Perry, the idea that a renewal of Christian values will somehow save our Nation from the socio-economic degradation we have been experiencing, has inundated every political issue from protecting America against terrorism (Islam) to restructuring our educational system. The idea of having a moral and ethical America is quite appealing to a large number of us but upon closer examination; the policies and practices these neo-theocrats are pushing forth are anything but Christian.

We have all watched as evangelism has slowly crept into our government. Like the slow decay of rot in the roots of a great tree, the embarking upon the trail toward a theocratic system for this great Nation became solidified when George H. W. Bush announced that the evil of Islamic Radicalism must be stopped. Even though President Bush did distinguish between Muslims and Radical Islam, many on the periphery of the mission took the rhetoric of protection against this radicalism to the next level. Like many in the radical media realm, FOX News host Brian Kilmeade stated that all terrorists are Muslim; somehow ignoring the many white Christian terrorists that have reaped havoc in America, only exacerbated the concept of all Muslims are potential terrorists and capable of killing anyone they disagree with.
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Monday, January 30, 2012

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS 2012 NCA Convention -- Orlando, Florida

The Religious Communication Association invites submissions for the 2012 NCA Convention, November 15-18, in Orlando, FL.  (PLEASE NOTE: all submissions will be considered for NCA as well as the RCA Pre-Conference. By submitting to RCA, you agree to have your work considered for the RCA pre-conference.)

The 2012 NCA Convention Theme is "Celebrate COMMunity." This theme provides opportunities to highlight the various intersections between traditional divisions within our broader areas of Communication Studies. We strongly encourage you to address the theme and the location (Orlando) as you develop your proposal, but all proposals addressing communication and religion are welcome.RCA will accept submissions in any of the following formats: Competitive individual papers, paper sessions and panel discussions.

Individual papers should include an abstract and are limited to 25 double-spaced pages, excluding notes.  Only completed papers will be considered. Individual papers should not contain any identifying information (author name, university affiliation). Unless otherwise requested, the planners will consider all competitive papers for NCA’s “scholar-to-scholar” interactive sessions. If you would like to be considered for Scholar to Scholar, please check the appropriate agreement box on the electronic form. The same paper may not be submitted to more than one division. Submit only one first-author paper, session or panel per NCA unit (division or affiliated organization).
Student papers should be clearly marked to be eligible for the RCA Student Paper of the Year as well as the Donald P. Cushman Award for top student paper in NCA.  For multi-authored works to be eligible, all authors must be students.

Paper sessions:  These theme-based sessions should include a title, a list of presenters with institutional affiliations, titles and abstracts for each individual presentation. To be considered for inclusion in the convention program, multiple institutions must be represented. Submissions should include a description for the online convention program as well as a rationale for the significance and relevance of the session.
Panel discussions should include a title and a list of presenters with institutional affiliations.  To be considered for inclusion in the convention program, multiple institutions must be represented. Submissions should include a description for the online convention program and a rationale that addresses the significance and relevance of the panel.

Scholar-to-Scholar: A one-on-one interactive format for communication and discussion; individual papers are submitted for public display in dedicated sessions with engagement by selected “wandering scholars” (experts in the field).  This format is appropriate for presentations such as video, interactive media, slide shows, experiential activities, and posters. If you would like to be considered for Scholar to Scholar please check the appropriate approval box on the electronic submission form.
>>DEADLINE WEDNESDAY MARCH 28, 2012 11:59 PM PT<<

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gingrich in the land of racism and religiousity

I lived there for almost a decade, so I'm familiar with the challenge of covering politics in the US South. The challenge stems from that region's peculiar social phenomenon: double consciousness. 

Basically, seeing shouldn't always be believing. During the GOP primaries in South Carolina, I smiled to myself when I read reporting that was awed by churches that look like shacks, trios of wooden crosses mounted on roadsides and highway billboards admonishing drivers that they must be born again. I was reminded of HL Mencken, ever the cosmopolitan aesthete, failing to comprehend the pentecostal essence of public life there. And like Mencken, the reporting I read was factual, credible and sometimes funny, but often unable to see through the veil of culture to concrete truth.

Like the US as a whole, the land is soaked with religiousity and racism, but unlike the rest of the country, the land has been soaking in them for about 400 years. The result is that religion and racism are completely natural features in the landscape of public affairs - and that to notice would be like noticing the air you breath and the water you drink, and doing that is to stand outside of the normal patterns of political life.
Read the rest here

African American Ministers in Action Supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA)

January 17, 2012
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator:
We hope that you will take the opportunity at the beginning of this New Year to address what has become a pervasive national problem(1). On behalf of the hundreds of progressive faith leaders across the country who are members of African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA), we write urging your support and cosponsorship of the Student Non‐Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 555).
Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, AAMIA joined with other faith, civil, and human rights groups to stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students as well as those who are perceived to be LGBT. AAMIA is not only a body of clerics but also a body of concerned parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers of school age children and youth.
As you have no doubt read, according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey:(2) 84.6% of LGBT students suffered verbal harassment; 40.1% were subject to physical harassment; and 18.8% experienced physical assault based on sexual orientation. For gender identity harassment, it’s 63.7% verbal and 27.2% physical, with 12.5% reporting physical assault. Not surprising is how this makes these vulnerable students feel unsafe: 61.1% reported feeling unsafe based on sexual orientation; 39.9% based on gender identity.
A student who does not feel safe due to bullying and harassment may choose avoidance and social isolation that will only add to their loss of learning and increase the harm they are already enduring. This is problematic because according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey,(3) “29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month alone because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.” And even when they remain in class, targeted students lose as much as half a grade point.
This is about education yes, but it is also a matter of life, quality of life, and death. You are needed in partnership to continue working to reverse this trend. S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that. Can we count on your support and cosponsorship? Your consideration of S. 555, including as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is necessary and appreciated.
Sincerely,

Reverend Timothy McDonald, III
Chairman

Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine
Vice-Chair

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi
Director

Is it Something I Said??

Friday, January 27, 2012

The New Black Theology

by Jonathan Tran
Christian Century

A couple years ago, when the Century asked some leading theologians to name five "essential theology books of the past 25 years," J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account (Oxford University Press, 2008) was one of the few books mentioned more than once and the only one that was published in the past five years. Last year, the Ameri­can Academy of Religion gave its Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion to Willie J. Jennings's The Christian Imagi­nation: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2010). These two influential works, together with Re­deeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity (Baylor University Press, 2010), by Brian Bantum (who studied at Duke with both Carter and Jennings), represent a major theological shift that will—if taken as seriously as it deserves—change the face not only of black theology but theology as a whole.

What is revolutionary about these three black theologians is that they rely heavily on dogmatic texts from the patristic period to the Reformation. Why is this novel? Because nonwhite male theologians have historically been hesitant to trust these sources—and for good reason. In the worst of times, classic theological texts have been used to oppress persons of color and women. In the best of times, the overwhelming attention given these particular voices obscured other voices, giving the impression that the only Christians speaking and writing about God for the last 2,000 years were European men. Those who did not fit that description simply did not know how to relate to a tradition that claimed to speak for but did not reflect them.
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An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich From the Pastors of Poor Children

Mr. Gingrich,

For this you still owe our children an apology:

"Some of the things they could do is work in a library, work in the front office, some of them frankly could be janitorial; what if they clean up the bathrooms, what if they mopped the floors, what if in the summer they repainted the school; what if in the process they were actually learning to work, learning to earn money; if they had their own money, they didn't have to become a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer. [If] they had the dignity of work and learned how to be around adults who actually wanted to mentor them and help them. This is not a casual comment... It grows out of a lot of thinking over many years of trying to figure out how do we break out people trapped in poverty who have no work habits." -- Gingrich

We, the students and faculty of the Delaware Annual Conference Ministerial Institute of the AME Church, representing over 34 congregations and their constituents throughout Delaware and southern Pennsylvania are outraged at your continued demeaning of poor children and their families.

As a candidate vying for the Republican Presidential nomination, to suggest that poor children collectively lack a work ethic and drive for legal and productive work is entirely classist. Your national platform is no place for such irresponsible remarks. Our children deserve better than your degrading rhetoric.
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A CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE TO AMERICA'S BROKEN POLITICAL DUOPOLY

by Michael Stafford
ABC Religion and Ethics

In his book Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Charles Chaput notes that neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties are comfortable political homes for American Catholics. His insight is correct and applies to all Christians who take their faith's public policy implications seriously.

Indeed, today the Republican and Democratic parties are not merely uncomfortable, imperfect, homes for people of faith; they are prisons that artificially divide us and prevent us from coming together as a community to advance the common good.

The Republican Party portrays itself as the political home for people of faith - in its imagery, the Bible and the flag often go hand-in-hand. The GOP is also, ostensibly, America's "pro-life" party. And given the primacy of the abortion issue for many Christians, it's not surprising that it has attracted the support of large numbers of evangelicals and conservative Catholic voters.

However, the policies advocated by the Republican Party today, and the ideology animating them, do not comport with Christian teaching on a range of issues. Its support for torture as an interrogation technique, capital punishment as a criminal penal sanction, and the dehumanizing rhetoric it directs towards immigrants, for example, do not reflect a Christian vision of the world.
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Religion and the 2012 South Carolina Republican Primary

by the Pew Forum of Religion and Life

In his South Carolina Republican primary win, Newt Gingrich received strong support from born-again/evangelical Christians and from voters who said that it is important to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs. Gingrich also won a plurality of votes among Protestants (42%); Catholics in the National Election Pool exit poll were more evenly split between Gingrich (37%) and Mitt Romney (29%).

Gingrich was the clear winner among the two-thirds of South Carolina primary voters who described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, earning 44% support. Romney (22%) and Rick Santorum (21%) finished far behind Gingrich among evangelical voters, while Ron Paul received 13% support from this group.
Read the findings here

Spike Lee and Co. Talk Religion and Representation in Red Hook Summer

In his new Brooklyn-set drama Red Hook Summer, director/co-writer Spike Lee tackles the complex topics of religion and redemption within the modern African American experience, as filtered through the eyes of a spoiled Atlanta teenager (Jules Brown) forced to spend one hot, explosive summer with his preacher grandfather in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a richly conceived portrait of the Brooklyn neighborhood as microcosm for the black community at large, very much a Lee joint through and through. But, as the filmmaker reminded audiences this week at Sundance, where he railed against the Hollywood system, “it’s not a sequel to Do the Right Thing!”

It’s tempting to draw parallels to Lee’s incisive 1989 Oscar nominated drama – he does, after all, appear in Red Hook Summer as his Do the Right Thing character Mookie (who’s still delivering pizzas for Sal’s, though he and Tina have parted ways). But fast forward to 2012 and there are new complications to be explored now that gentrification, secularism, reverse-migration, and the evolution of culture have altered the composition of the community – and Lee, with co-writer James McBride, seeks to explore every nook and cranny of this expansive 21st century terrain.
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Why We Must Learn America's Islamic History

by Engy Abdelkader
Huffington Post

"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue..." So we were taught in primary school. But, did you know that the captains of two of the three small Spanish ships comprising Columbus's fleet were in fact Muslim?

Martin Alonso Pinzon the captain of the Pinta and his brother Vicente Yanex Pinzon the captain of the Nina helped organize Columbus' voyages which introduced Europeans to the New World. The Pinzon brothers were in fact Muslims related to Abuzayan Muhammad III, a Moroccan Sultan.

I note this because American Muslims are often mispercieved as foreigners unwilling to assimilate. Yet, a survey of modern Islamic history and early American religious history reveals a uniquely different reality: the presence of Muslims in what would become the United States of America dates back to the earliest arrivals of Europeans in the Americas.
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Religion and racism in US primary

One hundred and seventy-eight years ago, in the little Massachusetts town of Charlestown, a mob of Protestant evangelicals burned to the ground a Roman Catholic convent and school.

In spite of incontrovertible evidence of their guilt, 12 of the 13 men charged with instigating and participating in the riot were acquitted. Recommendations that the state recompense the Archdiocese of Boston for its loss were repeatedly voted down in the Massachusetts legislature.

I retell this long-forgotten tale of religious bigotry and violence for two reasons. First, it is a useful corrective to the common belief that this sort of behaviour is confined, historically, to the states of the American south - the so- called "Bible Belt". Second, it reveals the crucial role evangelical Protestantism has played, and continues to play, in the history of the United States.

As the 1834 Convent Riot shows, the volatile mixture of politics and religion that so baffles foreign observers of the United States is nothing new; indeed, in the opinion of at least one American historian, David Goldfield, it has been one of its principal drivers.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why American Religion Isn't Refining American Values

by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Huffington Post

At the heart of the American experience is a profound contradiction: How are we so incredibly religious and yet so seemingly decadent?

While only 35% of Britons believe in God and 43% say they have no religion, 92% of Americans are believers and 80% are church-goers. Those same Americans, though, also make 68 million pornographic search engine requests every day, spending more than $3,000 on pornographic websites every second.

How are we to understand the materialistic impulses that had us spending $52.4 billion on Black Friday weekend shopping alone, and the bizarre accompanying stories like the woman who injured 20 shoppers by firing pepper spray into a crowd to clear her path to an Xbox?

Every four years, our presidential election cycle suggests the answer: Our public figures are obsessed with gay marriage and abortion to the exclusion of all other values.

Watch the Republican debates on television and you would think that America faces not a single social challenge other than stopping gays from marrying and women from aborting fetuses. America is a religious nation whose religious convictions have been hijacked by these twin issues, even though they have little to do with most Americans.
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The 'Art' and Rhetoric of Stereotyping and Scapegoating LGBT People

by Warren J. Blumenfeld
Huffington Post

From ancient to modern times, since long before Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt, and the "Johns" (Fitzgerald Kennedy, Edwards, and Ensign), through William Jefferson Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, and Newt Gingrich, married men have found it engorgingly hard to keep their pants zipped. But I am continually struck by the perplexing question of why the perception persists that primarily gay and bisexual men are "promiscuous."

Since long before biblical references to Abraham, through King Henry VIII, to Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, Senators Gary Hart, and David Vitter, Governors Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and golfer Tiger Woods, men have engaged in sexual relations outside the confines of marriage. But I am continually struck by the charge that ensuring marriage equality for same-sex couples will cheapen and ultimately destroy the institution of marriage.

Currently, political pundits and psychologists alike impart their "reasons" why high-profile and powerful heterosexual men commit "sexual transgressions," anything from the thrill in the risk of getting caught, to, in Schwarzenegger's case, the supposed result of taking steroids during his body-building days, which has allegedly turned him into the "sperminator." Virtually no one accuses these men, however, of destroying marriage itself.
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Respecting religion and democracy

The uprisings during the Arab Spring toppled the region’s brutal dictators only to fill the resulting power vacuum with radical Islamic theocrats — or so say many pundits and politicians. But do their statements have validity or are these people merely irked by the recent electoral popularity of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, and the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt? While each of these parties is expressly Islamic in outlook, can we be certain that they will act like the Ayatollah of Iran or the Taliban, or is there more to the political philosophies of the Islamic parties of North Africa?

In most cases the dictators that ruled North Africa before the Arab Spring suppressed religious freedom along with other human rights. While many of them spoke with the rhetoric of Islam, they undertook crackdowns of Mullahs who expressed theological opinions different from the state-sanctioned line. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was one such organization. This resulted in the Brotherhood becoming one of the most vocal and visible organizations to oppose the regime during the Arab Spring. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Carrie Rosefsky Wickham explains that the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of the Freedom and Justice Party, and the party’s resulting popularity, has more to do with being known as opponents of dictatorship than it does their religiously inspired views.
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Catholic Leaders Challenge Gingrich and Santorum on Divisive Rhetoric Around Race and Poverty

More than 40 national Catholic leaders and prominent theologians at universities across the country released a strongly worded open letter today urging “our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail.”
In the lead up to Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich has frequently blasted President Obama as a “food stamp president” and implied that some African Americans are more content to collect welfare benefits than work. Rick Santorum attracted scrutiny for telling Iowa votershe doesn’t want “to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
The open letter reminds the two presidential candidates, vying for Christian conservative voters, that U.S. Catholic bishops have called racism an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.
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U.S. split on candidates' religion talk

Presidential candidates who discuss their faith on the campaign trail may not be helping their bid for the nomination, according to a LifeWay Research survey of American adults.

The online survey asked, "When a candidate running for office regularly expresses religious conviction or activity, how does that impact your vote?"

According to the survey, only 1 in 6 Americans (16 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who regularly shares his religious beliefs. 

While 30 percent indicate they would be less likely to vote for a candidate expressing religious activity, 28 percent say it would have no impact on their choice of candidate. Twenty-one percent of Americans say it would depend on the candidate's religion.
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The Intersection of Religion and Politics: Some Issues for Campaign 2012

By Joel K. Goldstein

The presidential campaign season has certainly begun, the playoffs, if not yet the World Series, of American politics, and that reality brings with it the perennially vexing issues of the relationship between religion and politics.  I say “perennially” because the problem has long roots in American history.  It is “vexing” because some of the questions juxtapose important principles and do not lend themselves to simple solutions.  I say “issues” because the relation between religion and politics raises multiple questions.  First, there is the issue of the extent to which a candidate’s religious affiliation should be a factor in his or her candidacy, an issue which itself arises in multiple ways.  Second, there is the issue regarding the extent to which religious teachings and beliefs can properly influence political discourse.  Third, there is the use of religious issues as wedge issues.  Finally, there is the issue of the extent to which it is helpful for Jews or another religious group to associate or appear to be identified with one party or the other or to be viewed as a voting bloc.  All of these issues have arisen or will arise during the next 356 days.  This morning I want to make some preliminary comments about the first two issues—the relevance of a candidate’s religious affiliation and the role of religious teachings in public discourse.

These are not issues the Constitution resolves, either because, in some cases, constitutional law does not speak directly to them or because they arise in a forum where the remedies, if any, are political not legal.  Yet the Constitution does contain three clauses regarding the relationship between religion and state and those clauses suggest some general principles to inform thought.  In the Oath Clause, the Constitution provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  And the First Amendment presents two relevant clauses.  It provides that “Congress” (and by interpretation federal and state government generally) “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  
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Why Religious Right evangelicals picked Rick Santorum

A group of conservative evangelical leaders met in Texas last weekend and endorsed a Roman Catholic for president. Given the history of evangelical antipathy toward the theological underpinnings of the Roman Catholic Church, that in itself signals a remarkable evolution (pardon the word), along with a considerable amount of political pragmatism.

The blessing of what was once called the "Religious Right" fell on the once-married Rick Santorum and not the thrice married and more recent convert to Catholicism, Newt Gingrich.

The endorsement came on the same weekend when Tebow-mania was at its height, as were the ratings for CBS, which carried the Denver Broncos-New England Patriots football game. Tebow's Broncos were crushed by the superior and less openly religious Patriots.
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For the religious right, faith without works

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post

The movement of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson has been in decline for some time, but recent events suggest that they are wandering in the political wilderness.

A fresh symptom of the trouble came this month during the meeting of 150 evangelical leaders in Texas, where the deeply divided deacons of the religious right had to take three votes before opting to endorse Rick Santorum, who has no real chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.

Richard Land, a top figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, explained to NPR the choice of Santorum over Mitt Romney this way: “Before we marry the guy next door, don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall, dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed?”
Read more here

Separating Church and State… Again

Have you ever noticed that the comments beneath articles on CNN dealing with politics and religion are always filled with so much anger and polemic? One can only hope that the people who write in these blogs do not constitute the moderate majority of Americans, because if they do, then our country as a whole is headed for disaster.

Over winter break I was reading an article about how many of Rick Santorum’s political views are influenced by his strong Catholic faith, and how he is not as mindful of separation of church and state as his Catholic predecessor JFK was. Scrolling down to read the comments on this article, I was sadly unsurprised to see the words “ignorant,” “mindless,” “Godless.” and the like being thrown around like a baseball on a pleasant spring day. Of course, a lot of the people who were throwing around these words were atheists, but a lot of the bloggers were of other Christian denominations. You would think that in the twenty-first century Americans would be a little past this type of hate-filled rhetoric, but that’s seemingly not the case.
Read more here

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Candidates defend religious freedom, marriage in South Carolina

Republican presidential candidates promised to uphold values such as religious liberty and traditional marriage at events in South Carolina, where the next primary election is slated to take place on Jan. 21.

“At every turn, at every issue that would reach my desk, I will stand up for the ability of Americans to worship God as they choose,” said Mitt Romney, who currently leads in polls across the state.

Romney vowed to protect America’s religious tradition while speaking at a Jan. 14 forum hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

During the event at the Sottile Theatre at the College of Charleston, Romney was asked by participants how he would address “growing anti-Christian sentiment” in America.

The former Massachusetts governor responded that he would not add to what he called the secularization of America, but instead promote all citizens' rights to practice religion as they see fit.
Read the rest here

US elections 2012: tensions over race likely to suppress black vote

It was billed as a unity celebration.

But there was not much evidence of that as Spartanburg's African American residents streamed in to the city's main auditorium as part of a week of "celebrating people of all cultures and ethnicity".

"Only a few white folks will come out to something like this," said Lisa Campbell, an African American student. "It's racism. Racism is still prevalent here. It's not real subtle."

That's why Campbell laughs at the question as to whether she'll be voting in South Carolina's Republican primary election on Saturday. So does another woman at the concert to mark Martin Luther King Day, Kathy Edwards.

"It's all about this with the Republicans," she says pinching her own black skin. "I'm 58 now. It's better than it was but with the Republicans it's all about race even if they don't say it."
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Why Romney's Religion Matters Politically

Protestants move freely from one denomination to another depending on the preacher, the programs of the congregation, and the politics of the group. Religious doctrine seems not to matter. We no longer live in the seventeenth century.

But religious doctrine matters in the Republican primaries. Many Republicans believe that Mitt Romney is not a real Christian and prefer other candidates for those reasons. Thus evangelicals met in Texas to rally around a single candidate to stop Romney. To be sure, those evangelicals doubt Romney’s dedication to conservative principles as well, but the religion of the candidate was explicitly an issue for the evangelicals.

Why? As I understand it contemporary Mormons accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and they believe that Jesus is God, but they do not believe that Jesus is co-equal with the Father. For them, the traditional conception of the Trinity is a fourth century invention.
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Why Liberals Shouldn't Dis Tim Tebow (or Jesus)

by Robert Wright
The Atlantic

It took the final, climactic weekend of Tebow-mania to draw my attention to the weeks-old Saturday Night Live skit below. The skit ridicules Tim Tebow and/or Jesus, depending on how you interpret it. Parts of it made me laugh, but I still think this kind of stuff probably hurts the cause of the secular liberals who typically create it. My two reasons for believing this can be found below 
1) Prominent among the political adversaries of secular liberals are religious conservatives, the more extreme of whom consider themselves to be at war with the prevailing culture. They may homeschool their kids (though not all homeschoolers share this attitude) or in other ways try to wall themselves off from this culture. When secular liberals who shape the culture fulfill the religious conservatives' stereotype of them as threatening--by, say, seeming to ridicule Jesus, or seeming to ridicule Tebow's faith--conservatives will be more inclined to stay within their walls, avoiding engagement with the secular world. So they'll find it easier to reject the entire liberal agenda, ranging from gay rights to uncensored science education in the public schools. (Don't get me started on the damage that I fear Richard Dawkins is doing to science education in the heartland by embodying a false equation between Darwinism and a militant, contemptuous atheism.) In short, when liberals are seen as ridiculing Christianity, they're energizing their adversaries and making it harder to turn adversaries into allies, or at least neutral parties, on particular issues.
Read the rest here

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK’s Mentor Revealed

He criticized Christianity for its racial segregation, the New Deal for being half-hearted, and America for mimicking, in its Jim Crow laws, the fascistic tendencies of Europe’s real fascists. Having already labeled Jesus’ virgin birth a myth, albeit a religiously instructive one, he was no stranger to hot-button commentary.
Howard Thurman (Hon.’67) (pictured below) expressed these thoughts privately, and sometimes publicly, in the years before he became BU’s pioneering African American chapel dean and mentored a young Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59). The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman, Volume 2: Christian, Who Calls Me Christian?(University of South Carolina Press), out this month, features a fraction of his surviving 58,000 papers. The book spans the years from 1936, just after Thurman’s life-altering meeting with Gandhi, to 1943, just before his cofounding the country’s first integrated, interfaith church in San Francisco.
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Re-examining the rhetoric of the Republican Party

In a recent campaign ad, Republican candidate Rick Perry condemned “Obama’s war on religion” by asking why “gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
In a speech last March, Newt Gingrich proposed a deep and profound political change in response to the ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. He likened himself to Abraham Lincoln in Dred Scott v. Sanford and volunteered to put America back in touch with her founding roots, announcing his candidacy two months later. To put America back on track, Gingrich will free slaves bound by rather different chains: anti-Christian bigotry.
Republicans use of religious rhetoric to garner votes is not uncommon. Democrats, however, handle such rhetoric with much prudence, using religion only in carefully planned situations. For conservatives, more so than liberals, religious rhetoric often means Christian rhetoric.
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Pentecostalism’s Neglected Black History

In her groundbreaking new book ‘Black Fire,’ theologian Estrelda Y. Alexander shines a light on the African American roots of Pentecostalism. Here, she speaks to UrbanFaith about the miracles and scandals of Black Pentecostal faith.
Dr. Estrelda Y. Alexander grew up in the Pentecostal movement, but didn’t know much about the black roots of that movement until she was a seminary student. In her groundbreaking new book,Black Fire: 100 Years of African American Pentecostalism, the Regent University visiting professor traces those roots back to the Azusa Street Revival and beyond. Alexander was so influenced by what she learned that she’s spearheading the launch of William Seymour College in Washington, D.C., to continue the progressive Pentecostal legacy of one of the movement’s most important founders.

Martin Luther King in the Era of Occupy

On August 28, 1963, King delivered his most famous address, the “Dream” speech. Back in Birmingham a little over two weeks later, King’s dream turned into a nightmare.
On the morning of September 15, 1963, a group of nearly thirty black children sat in a basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church, awaiting the closing prayers of a sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives.” Upstairs, adult black congregants gathered for the upcoming service. They had seen a lot in their town over the last several months. And what they were about to see confirmed the worst fears of many about the consequences of nonviolence.
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was at the forefront of the nationally televised civil rights struggles, which included protesters’ encounters with snarling dogs and fire hoses that shot off powerful streams of water that stripped the bark off trees.
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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Tea Party's Not-So-Civil War

I met Karen Martin, a few days before New Year’s, at a cafe in Greenville, the hub of conservative politics in South Carolina. A 54-year-old refugee from the North Shore of Massachusetts, Martin is the lead organizer of the nearby Spartanburg Tea Party. Another Tea Party leader described her to me as a grown-up, and in fact, Martin turned out to be the kind of activist — ideology notwithstanding — who makes you feel hopeful about the new age of political uprising. She recounted how she burst into tears at the moment she realized, watching the news in 2008, that children growing up today wouldn’t have the economic opportunities that she did. She talked about how the Tea Party would need to mature and become more politically sophisticated in the years ahead. “I think the movement is just too young and too emotional,” she said.
Then our conversation turned to Mitt Romney, and Martin’s sunny countenance darkened. “I don’t know a single Tea Party person,” she said, slowly drawing out her words, “who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being.” I searched her face for levity or compassion, but found neither.
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Is Rick Santorum A Catholic Or An Evangelical? Yes.

Just days after Rick Santorum surged to a virtual tie for first in the Iowa caucuses, conservative activists at an invitation-only summit along the South Carolina coast were buzzing about the former Pennsylvania senator's sudden and promising breakthrough.
Deal Hudson, who directed Catholic outreach for George W. Bush's White House before starting the conservative group Catholic Advocate, was among the movers and shakers at the annual Awakening gathering on Kiawah Island. He was especially pleased to hear such praise for a fellow Catholic -- until Hudson realized something odd.
"There were a number of knowledgeable people who were very enthusiastic about Rick but didn't know he was Catholic," Hudson said with a quiet laugh. "I was really surprised."
To be fair, those conservative kingmakers may not be the only ones who don't know what church Santorum attends, much less care. But that, some say, is exactly the point.
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“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” – The False Dichotomy


by Zach Hunt
American Jesus
My apologies for the long post, but I thought this video, which is quickly going viral, is in need of some thoughtful reflection.
If you have Christian friends and you’ve been on Facebook in the past 48 hours, then chances are you’ve already seen it.
As of “press time” the video was already closing in on 1 million views on Facebook after having only been posted on Tuesday. No question about it that’s impressive.
Aesthetically speaking it’s not hard to see why. It definitely has “the look”  and “feel” (however you define those words) that appeals to a 18-35 year old demographic (with a little leeway in both directions).
As a Christian person in that demographic I should probably “like” it and share it with all of my Facebook friends.
But I don’t like it.
At all.
Now, to be fair I do think Jeff Bethke (the guy in the video) makes some good points about voting Republican, sexuality, and Christian identity being defined by your Facebook status.
And, once again, the production quality is great and the speaker is very articulate. That’s not my issue.
My issue with this video is that it panders to a false, but widely accepted Protestant Evangelical narrative; one which has come to supplant Christianity itself as the “true gospel.”
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tim Tebow, Displaying Religion, and the Myth of Marginalized Christianity in the United States

by Andre E. Johnson
Editor: Rhetoric Race and Religion

I want to start by saying that I have no problem at all with Tim Tebow and I can understand some of the fascination with him. As he illustrates in the commercial, “They Said,” many have doubted Tebow and he currently uses those words as fuel to drive him to succeed. This story resonates with me because many have told me at different points throughout my life that I could not “do” and for a long time, I had a chip on my shoulder wanting to prove the naysayers wrong.

I also do not have a problem with Tebow "being" who he is. He is an Evangelical Christian and for him at least, that means displays his Christianity in public. Whether he is thanking his “Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” before every press conference, whether he decides to display scripture passages on his “eye black” during football games, or whether he does the now infamous “Tebowing” after every touchdown, I am sure that Tebow believes himself to be authentic and honest with his display. Matter of fact, for Tebow not to display his religion publicly, would be to denounce Jesus and incur the wrath of Luke 9:26, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.”

What I do have a problem with is the backdrop in which Tebow feels the need to display his religious affiliation. For many, to claim publicly "Jesus is Lord and Savior" goes further than just a confession of faith. It also plays to the belief that Christianity is somehow under attack. Tebow and people of his mindset believe Christianity to be some marginalized religion in the United States and therefore, to proclaim publicly Jesus as Lord and Savior is really a radical thing to do. Fed a steady diet of "War on Christmas" and other media derived "Attacks on Religion," and my personal favorite, Obama's "War on Religion," many would argue that Tebow is acting prophetically by this proclamation. By praying on the field and wearing scripture references under his eyes, Tebow is resisting the establishment and following Jesus—even if it means offending people, losing friends, endorsements or losing something meaningful as a result. Many would proclaim that Tebow is facing the barrage of attacks—not because of his play, but because he is a Christian who would openly confess his Christianity. Moreover, by doing so, Tebow is a Christian hero—upheld by Jesus—to endure these attacks against his faith. Tebow and others like him become role models for Christians; especially young Christians navigating through life discerning their options and how they can be authentically Christian in a hostile Christian world.

However, the problem with the marginalized Christianity belief (in the United States anyway), is that it is a myth. Though the numbers are dropping, according to the Religious Identification Survey, though the number have decrease (and I have my own theories on that), we still make up 76% of people who claim any religious affiliation. Matter of fact, according to the same survey, people not affiliated with any religion; affectionately called the “Nones,” make up 15% which is more than people who are members of other religions (3.9%). Christians demand and get more air time in the media more than any other religious group. There are television and radio networks dedicated to Christians and Christianity. One would shutter to think if there was a Muslim religious channel as prominent as say TBN, the WORD, or GOD TV. There are churches are on every corner or every city and town in America. I wonder what would be the response to building a Mosque. I am sorry, we do not have to wonder—we already know the response. We Christians can form Christian family oriented groups (no matter how small) and almost be assured that we will get media coverage. We can threaten to burn Korans or even get a major corporation to pull advertising from a TV show because the leaders of the "powerful" Florida Family Association declared that the show was propaganda designed to depict Muslims as "ordinary folks" while excluding "many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish." 

Moreover, thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision, we good church folks can openly discriminate against employees by claiming that what the discriminated employee did was against our religious beliefs.I do not belief the justices had Hindus and Scientologists in mind when rendering this decision. And one cannot think of running for president unless she or he has a “personal relationship with Jesus” (Romney is about to find out if his personal relationship with Jesus is acceptable or not to religious conservatives). So to claim oneself a Christian in this Christian supported nation; to openly wear scripture references under one’s eyes or to pray openly on the football field or anywhere else is not being prophetic—its being safe and assured that you have millions of people who will come out and support you in all that you do.

No, we are no longer that little underground movement that continued after Jesus’ execution, that offered a new way to live, by loving all and standing up to the Empire when proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior (and not Caesar) really could have meant losing something; even one’s life. We are now part of the Empire and to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior will not get you in any trouble at all—matter of fact, as Tebow and others soon find out, others may reward you nicely for saying it. Just displaying religion it turns out is good enough.

Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD is the Dr. James L. Netters Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor at Gifts of Life Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee. He is also the editor of the Rhetoric Race and Religion blog